Iâ€™ve started posting various sorts of lists in this space, inspired partly by Greil Marcusâ€™s collection of columns, Real Life Top Ten, but without Marcusâ€™s hipster edge or focus on popular culture. My knowledge ofÂ popular culture is not nearly so wide, nor my taste so inclusive, as Marcusâ€™s, but I know a thing or two about Dylan, not so much as a figureÂ (or personality), but as a poet. People donâ€™t worry much these days about whether or not Dylan is or is not a poetâ€”whether he meets the qualificationsâ€”but in my younger days it was a question of some importance, at least to some of us who had begun to see poetry (or all things) as a powerful mode of perception. Dylan himself had clearly thought thisâ€”after all, he had dropped in on Carl Sandberg and announced himself, however awkwardly, as a member of the tribe. Later, he seems to have dismissed the question as beside the point, though the songs of his great period are studded with references to poets & poetry.1
I seem to have buriedÂ my thesisÂ in a footnote. Iâ€™m getting ready to teach Dylanâ€™s songs in my Literature of American Popular Music course2 and since I donâ€™t have more than three or four class periods to cover the territory, I have to decide what to focus on. So just pick my favorite tracks, right? If my students were just young friends in my living room, that would be fine, but even at this late stage of my academic career I feel some compunction to heed the institutional imperatives of the classroom. Well, then, choose Dylanâ€™s â€œmost importantâ€ work. But important on what criteria? Historical? Cultural? Musical? I could fake a discussion of the first two; the third would be more of a stretch. In fact, Iâ€™d already decided, though I had quite realized it until this morning. Itâ€™s a Literature course, as I mentioned above: one of the assumptions behind the course is that at least some songs overlap the domains of the literary. Which means that next week I will teach what I take to be Bob Dylanâ€™s three most literary records. It is perhaps a little unfortunate that all these records are from early in Dylanâ€™s career, but perhaps Iâ€™ll be able to fast-forward to a few tracks from Blood on the Tracks & Love and Theft.